Bank mutual fund executives are bracing for the big one.
This week - perhaps as early as Monday - the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is expected to release its long-awaited study of banks' mutual fund sales practices.
Based on nearly 8,000 calls and visits to 1,000 banks, the sweeping study is expected to suggest that banks still have plenty of room for improvement in disclosing fund risks.
While the study is expected to cover much familiar territory, it is also likely to break some new ground.
For instance, it will give banks that sell mutual funds by phone their first in-depth checkup, systematically evaluating sales representatives' telephone pitches for compliance with regulatory requirements governing sales presentations.
Telephone and in-person contacts contributed equally to the study, which was conducted by "mystery shoppers" hired on behalf of the FDIC.
The study of telephone sales techniques is a noteworthy evolution of regulatory scrutiny. In-branch sales techniques have long drawn bank regulators' attention, but prospecting and sales calls have garnered far less interest until now.
But as banks' investment sales programs mature, a growing number are going beyond statement stuffers and lobby displays to reach their customers.
"The telephone is the broker's most critical communications tool for maintaining customer contact and for making new sales," said Richard B. Ross, an investment sales consultant based in Glencoe, Ill.
Although bank brokers continue to benefit from foot traffic in their branches, telephone sales calls have become nearly as important to them as they are to their nonbank competitors, Mr. Ross added.
But bank brokers must disclose that mutual funds may lose value, are not FDIC-insured, and carry no bank guarantee when they make any oral sales presentation - including those made over phone.
Some telephone calls may be strictly limited to setting up in-branch appointments, several industry sources said, but many rise to the definition of sales presentations.
And although federal banking regulators amended their guidance on mutual fund sales last September to allow brief radio advertisements of 30 seconds without risk disclosure, telemarketing contacts gained no special treatment.
"The interagency statement is specific and banks are going to need to comply by emphasizing the minimum disclosures during telemarketing contacts," said James M. Rockett, law partner at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, San Francisco.
Mr. Rockett said he commonly reviews scripts for in-person sales presentations for compliance but has had few requests to do the same for telemarketing scripts.
"Banks aren't paying as much attention to the development of their telemarketing scripts as they should," Mr. Rockett said.